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Intimacies Between Empires:
New Directions in Critical and Comparative Ethnic Studies
Fojas, Camilla, and Rudy P. Guevarra Jr., eds. 2012. Transnational Crossroads: Remapping the Americas and the Pacific. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. $45.00 sc. xii + 478 pp.
Shigematsu, Setsu, and Keith L. Camacho, eds. 2010. Militarized Currents: Toward a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. $74.25 hc, $24.50 sc. xlvii + 355 pp.

The notion of intimacy has been solidly linked to the study of empire since the 1990s owing to the groundbreaking work of feminist and postcolonial scholars, including Anne McClintock, Amy Kaplan, and Ann L. Stoler. Indeed, by 2001, Stoler remarks that “among students of colonialisms in the last decade, the intimacies of empire have been a rich and well-articulated research domain” (2001, 831). The intimacies of empire most often evoke ways that empire exerts and reveals itself through “intimate domains—sex, sentiment, domestic arrangement, and child rearing” (829). At the same time, as Stoler continues to suggest in her now-canonical essay “Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post) Colonial Studies,” the densely imbricated structures of global imperialism—including ways of producing and circulating knowledge within colonial systems, and ways of constituting and managing racialized and colonial subjectivities—also belie a level of intimacy between empires. [End Page 188]

Two recent anthologies develop this argument about the intimate connections between empires, focusing on the complicated legacies of overlapping colonialisms on gendered, racialized subjects in the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Showcasing the work of emerging and established scholars working in the interstices of American studies, ethnic studies, and post–Cold War area studies, Militarized Currents: Towards a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific (2010) and Transnational Crossroads: Remapping the Americas and the Pacific (2012) both enact critiques of US empire and exceptionalism through intersectional and comparative analyses drawn across multiple disciplinary sites and geographic spaces. Taken together, Militarized Currents and Transnational Crossroads model what might be called the “new ethnic studies,” critical interventions that seek to challenge a more traditional, US-centric “four groups” framework of ethnic studies by foregrounding issues of transnationalism, indigeneity, racialized gender, and global imperialism.

Edited by Setsu Shigematsu and Keith L. Camacho, Militarized Currents “examines how militarization has constituted a structuring force that connects the histories of the Japanese and US empires across the regions of Asia and the Pacific” (2010, xv). The anthology’s thirteen essays illuminate the ongoing effects of militarism that have resulted from nearly a century of US and Japanese influence and activity in the Asia-Pacific region. Locating its argument within a broader context of US militarism, alluding especially to imminent and visible cases of US involvement in Iraq and the Middle East, Militarized Currents offers perspectives on the ongoing cultural and ideological effects of sustained imperialist militarism on both US subjects and those touched by US military presence abroad. At the same time, the anthology complicates the usual critiques of US empire by including works that interrogate the dynamic tensions between Japanese and US empire-building ambitions and actions in Asia and the Pacific. As a whole, the essays in Militarized Currents reveal the ambivalent effects of militarism on colonial subjects, whose identities and political agency have been intimately tied to the cultures, processes, and structures created and sustained by what Cynthia Enloe refers to as “militarized imperial action” (Shigematsu and Camacho 2010, vii).

The first section of Militarized Currents, “Militarized Bodies of Memory,” includes essays by Jon Kamakawiwo’ole Osorio, Teresia K. Teaiwa, Michael Lujan Bevacqua, and Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez that examine specific sites of cultural memory and how these function to circulate sympathetic narratives of colonial servitude and at the same time elide brutal narratives of colonial violence. The second section, “Militarized Movements,” looks at instances of gendered, racialized, and decolonial activism sparked by the experiences of colonized subjects involved in militarized sex work and serving in the US military in Okinawa, South Korea, Guam, and San Diego. Featuring essays by Wesley Iwao Uenten, Katharine H. S. Moon, Keith L. Camacho, and Laurel A. Monnig, and Theresa Cenidoza Suarez, the works in this section reveal complicated affinities and tensions among politicized subjects resisting colonial power structures within [End Page 189] militarized spaces. In the third section of the anthology, essays by Naoki Sakai, Insook Kwon, Fumika Sato, and Patti Duncan analyze normative ideologies of gender and sexuality that support militarized heteronationalism and sustain racial and gendered violence. Finally, Walden Bello’s essay, which concludes the anthology, considers how the US has used its military to secure neo-imperialist hegemony over the Asia-Pacific region, resulting in what Bello describes as a “transnational garrison state” (2010, 311). The situation to which Bellos refers is an “integrated and extremely secretive complex composed of mobile forces and fixed bases” across the Pacific Islands and Pacific Rim Asia where “host states . . . exercise nominal control,” thus giving latitude to the US to exert its neo-imperialist agenda. Bello notes that Japan, whose Self Defense Forces (SDF) has officially replaced its military in name (if not at all in size or function), is “the ‘keystone’ of the US military structure” (311), a point which underscores and brings into present focus the anthology’s tracings of historic “parallels and interconnections between US and Japanese imperialisms” (xvi).

Whereas Militarized Currents focalizes the intimacy between US and Japanese imperialisms in the construction of the Asia-Pacific region, Transnational Crossroads suggests that contemporary geopolitics across the Americas and Pacific have been structured through intimacies of Spanish and US empire. Editors Camille Fojas and Rudy P. Gueverra Jr. write, “The comparison of the Spanish and US imperial formations links the Pacific to the Americas while it also reveals how the process and status of empire have changed” (2012, 7). Combining a hemispheric perspective on the Americas with inclusive considerations of what the editors call “the American Pacific” (11) and, reading overlapping imperialist legacies over a longue durée, the volume ambitiously highlights the potential for cross-racial dialogue and comparative study, especially between Asian/Pacific American studies and Latina/o studies.

Organized into four sections, Transnational Crossroad’s fifteen essays cover extensive ground that includes everything from cultural studies of textiles, novels, and reality TV to transnational and comparative studies of racial discrimination and activism to decolonial critiques of language and history. Essays by Faye Christine Caronan, Camilla Fojas, and Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez in the anthology’s first section, “The End of Empire: Spanish and US Imperialism,” set up the anthology’s aim to re-map the Americas and the Pacific by providing incisive analyses of US cultural imperialist reach beyond the contiguous United States. Through discussions that, respectively, compare diasporic Filipina/o and Puerto Rican cultural-activist communities; examine nineteenth-cscentury travel writing depicting the Philippines, Guam, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, and trace the Hawai‘ian quilt as a gendered symbol of colonization and as a postcolonial tourist commodity, the essays in part 1 demonstrate various ways that culture is deployed to sustain and normalize imperialist asymmetries of power. Part 2 of Transnational Crossroads, “Comparative Racialization: Trans-American Pacific Racial Formations,” showcases work that considers intersections in Asian and Latina/o American history and racial formations. Chapters by Jinah Kim and [End Page 190] Rudy P. Gueverra Jr. investigate overlapping histories of labor immigration and racial discrimination of Japanese, Filipina/o and Mexican-American subjects. Whereas Kim’s essay reveals parallels in the management and exclusion of racialized bodies in the 1940s through Japanese-American internment and the Mexican bracero program, Gueverra’s essay traces often-neglected histories of coalitional activism in the period from the 1920s to the 1940s, involving Filipino laborers who first worked and engaged in joint political actions with Japanese agricultural laborers in Hawai‘i and later sought alliances with Mexican laborers in California. A third essay in part 2, jointly authored by Gilda L. Ochoa, Laura E. Enriquez, Sandra Hamada, and Jenniffer Rojas, elucidates a case study of comparative racial formations at a Southern California high school, where Asian- and Latina/o-American students experience and critically reflect on mutually reinforcing racial and class formations that affect not only educational performance and achievement, but also socialization and personal development. The essays in “The American Pacific,” the anthology’s third section, offer insightful contributions to the recently burgeoning body of critical scholarship on settler colonialism in Hawai‘i. Influenced by and extending Haunani-Kay Trask’s leading activist scholarship on Native Hawaiian sovereignty and her preeminent critiques of Asian settler colonialism, chapters by Maile Arvin, Ku’ualoha Ho‘omanawanui, and Bianca Isaki urge new forms imagining the politics of Asian American presence in Hawai‘i. Approaching the question of settler colonial relations through an original analysis of Filipino and Puerto Rican subjects in Hawai‘i in the early part of the twentieth century, JoAnna Poblete’s piece, which closes part 3, poses provocative questions about the complex status of “intracolonial” settlers and subjects in historical and contemporary imaginings of Hawai‘i (Foja and Gueverra 2012, 306). The fourth and final section of Transnational Crossroads, “Crossroads of American Migration,” is the anthology’s lengthiest and perhaps most compelling. Featuring the work of Erika Lee, Stella Oh, Claudia Sadowski-Smith, Jane H. Yamashiro and Hugo Córdova Quero, and Ryan Masaki Yokota, part 4 considers Asian American migration, settlement, and racial formations from a comparative, hemispheric perspective. As Fojas and Guevera note, “Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, thousands of Chinese, Japanese, Asian Indians, and Koreans made their way to Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Peru, and other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean” (21). Lee’s chapter, which traces the hemispheric spread of “Yellow Peril” discourse through Japanese immigration laws and internment from Canada to South America, sets a historical foundation for innovative analyses of diaspora by Yamashiro and Quero, who comparatively examine the experiences of Japanese Americans and Japanese Brazilians living in Japan, and by Yokota, who offers a nuanced analysis of transnational, postcolonial identity construction of Peruvian Okinawans living in Los Angeles. Equally nuanced are Oh and Sadowski-Smith’s contributions, which allude to historical flows of transnational labor and capital between Asia and the Americas in their literary analyses of novels by Karen Tei Yamashita, Sky Lee, and Cristina Garcia. [End Page 191]

The essays in Transnational Crossroads thus challenge ideologies of US exceptionalism and reveal the limits of ethnic and area studies scholarship that privilege and center the United States. Fojas and Gueverra point out the “Cold War legacies” behind the scholarly agendas of Latin American and Asian studies that also subtly connect these seemingly disparate areas of study (2012, 4). Likewise, the anthology works against a conception of ethnic studies that assumes the centrality of the United States and its racial formations by accentuating work that analyzes “interethnic and transracial relations in a global context” (11). Indeed, both Transnational Crossroads and Militarized Currents expressly aim to expose and unsettle the boundaries of contemporary interdisciplinary fields of scholarship. While Transnational Crossroads foregrounds a comparative racialization approach that complements a global, world-systems framework, Militarized Currents appears to pursue and elaborate on the recent scholarly project that defines itself as critical ethnic studies, which calls for “insurgent critique” through an “intersectional project . . . that sees categories of race, class, gender and sexuality not as additive modes of identity, oppression, or discrimination, but rather as constitutive, as robust analytics for critically apprehending and theorizing alternatives” (CESA 2013). Shigematsu and Camacho echo these sentiments closely in their introduction (2010, xxvi, xxix), working from the basic assumption that militarization is “an extension of colonialism and its gendered and racialized processes” (xv; emphasis in original). By unsettling the usual disciplinary distinctions between Asian area studies, ethnic studies, gender and women’s studies, Indigenous studies, and American studies, Militarized Currents also opens up space for inter-animating conversations between areas of knowledge production. This is never more apparent than in the volume’s rigorous inclusion of essays relying on multilingual research and translations. Notable mentions are Wesley Uenten’s piece on the Koza Uprising in Okinawa in the 1970s that extensively references both US and Japanese primary and secondary sources, and in the two translations that appear in the anthology, Insook Kwon’s essay on sexual violence between male soldiers across the ranks of the Korean military (translated from Korean by Daisy Kim), and Fumika Sato’s feminist, cultural studies analysis of Japan’s recruitment of women into its SDF (co-translated from Japanese by Sato and the anthology’s editor, Setsu Shigematsu).

Of the two anthologies, Militarized Currents is the more tightly focused and in this way more satisfying, as it is able to sustain a coherent argument that connects militarism and colonialism. Empire as a concept as well as a practice is expansive and unwieldy; anthologies, which are often strengthened by a diversity of voices and arguments, can nevertheless lack thematic focus. As a result, it is no surprise that anthologies about empire can suffer from a certain nebulousness. Not so in the case of Militarized Currents, which issues from the contention that “while empire building takes on many forms, we recognize militarism as a constitutive condition and ideology of empire” (2010, xxvii). As a whole, the essays in Militarized Currents develop a useful definition of militarism as a hegemonic structure that supports empire and demonstrate how competing and colluding militarisms [End Page 192] weave into the cultural fabric enabling at times coercive, at times subversive, effects. Moreover, the critique of militarism developed throughout Militarized Currents substantiates the anthology’s activist impetus toward decolonization. The collection maintains a strong commitment to indigenous sovereignty. Extending the work of scholars who have, since the 1990s, been disrupting the Pacific Rim and Asia/Pacific paradigm (see, for example, Wilson and Dirlik 1995), Shigematsu and Camacho produce a collection that pushes this imperative towards overtly “centering the Pacific” (2010, xxxii). A number of essays critically and self-consciously address and resist the hegemonic dominance of Standard English by making reference to indigenous languages, for example Michael Bevacqua’s use of Chamorro numbers in the subject headings of his essay and Jon Osorio’s beautifully written historical reflection on different generations’ attitudes toward Hawaiian occupation, read through an analysis of Native Hawaiian songs. Above all, the consistent application of intersectional analysis throughout the collection demonstrates not only the collusion of militarism, gendered labor, racism, and sexual exploitation in imperialist projects, but also the necessity of attending to issues of gender, sexuality, and class in decolonial scholarship and activism.

Transnational Crossroads takes a broader tack and in this way could prove more useful as a teaching anthology: for example, as a survey text for comparative Asian, Pacific, and Latina/o American studies or as an introduction to transnational and/or comparative methodologies. As a whole, it invites news ways of looking at diaspora, immigration, and empire especially, and succeeds in its goal to open “up a field of study that compares Asia Pacific American and Latin American studies” (Fojas and Gueverra 2012, 6). Like Militarized Currents, the latter anthology forwards a scholarly activist agenda; specifically, Transnational Crossroads argues that since “Latina/os and Asian Americans share common experiences related to immigration, internal colonialism, assimiliation, and often negative racialization,” scholarly work that illuminates these connections can encourage “political collaborations across racial and ethnic divides, particularly in the case of Asians and Latina/os” (13). Either anthology would be a fine addition to a syllabus on cultural studies of empire, contemporary theories of ethnic studies, or critical approaches to Asian/Pacific diaspora studies.

Janey Lew  

Janey Lew is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Works Cited

CESA (Critical Ethnic Studies Association). 2013. “Journal.” Critical Ethnic Studies Association. https://criticalethnicstudies.org/content/journal.
Stoler, Ann Laura. 2001. “Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post) Colonial Studies.” Journal of American History 88.3: 829–65.
Wilson, Rob, and Arif Dirlik, eds. 1995. Asia/Pacific as Space of Cultural Production. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. [End Page 194]

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Ethnic relations -- History.
  • Militarism -- Pacific Area -- History -- 20th century.
  • Shigematsu, Setsu. -- Militarized currents: toward a decolonized future in Asia and the Pacific. -- 328971
  • Guevarra, Rudy. -- 328970
  • Camacho, Keith L. -- 328971
  • Fojas, Camilla, -- 1971- -- Transnational crossroads : remapping the Americas and the Pacific. -- 328970
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